Life With Nine Kids

Friday, April 27, 2012


I stopped and gazed at Charlotte recently. When a child gets older the gazing comes and goes more infrequently than when they are a soft nursing newborn, or when they pitter-pat across the floor as a toddler.  A rosy cheeked drooler with sweet chunky baby feet who gives sloppy baby kisses elicits a googly-eyed mother. An inquisitive four or five year old elicits a spark of jaw dropping wonder and magic. Then you blink and they are teenagers.  

 In a lush green yard she played with kids of all ages and ran around. They tossed a mini football around. She looked so mature and refined. Because she is. Her siblings swarmed her, especially one year old Everett. He ran to her, she swooped him up. 

She's getting unmistakably older and she looks more like a young woman than a girl. I took in the sight like I took in her newborn body swaddled in a blanket 15 years ago. This moment, I thought to myself, I want to remember it. Without trying I flashed forward in my head 10 years into the future. It was the same image that was currently in front of me. Young woman Charlotte, running around with kids, cute as a button, happy, glowing, smiling. The world all hers. As I stood in this yard I felt like it's very much like the backyard of her future; beautiful, serene, safe, cozy, colorful...with children, and happiness and love. This is my wish for my beautiful girl: all of those feelings. And maybe the kids in my vision are hers, maybe not. But the beauty and happiness and kindness she exudes can only lead to a beautiful life and I'm really blessed that I'm a part of it. As she ran and laughed and lived in the present I thought to myself; this is her future. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Eggshells: Telling Another Parent They Are Wrong

So how does one tell another parent, a stranger in public, that they are totally out of line and ridiculous towards their child?

Well this is how I did it. And it didn't really feel good, but it did feel right...

   At the park I was enjoying my kids. We brought a hot dinner and were having a fun time picnicking and playing. As I was pushing three year old Sebastian on the "baby swings" (which I will from now on call safety swings) a little boy nearby pleaded with his dad to push him on them too. He said no. The boy persisted. His dad said no, "Those are baby swings for kids three and under." I was shocked because this little boy was much, much smaller than my three year old who fit just fine in the swing.
   The dad continued telling the little boy he'd push him on the regular size swings. The little boy said he really wanted the other swings. The dad said they were for little kids. He earnestly pleaded, "BUT, I AM a little kid." No you aren't was his reply. "You're are a big kid, not a baby." My heart ached for the little boy.
   The pleading continued as steam started to rise up in me; I got angry, I got that bad feeling in my gut. I told myself to just ignore it. The boy stopped complaining for a minute. I focused on talking to Sebastian as I wondered what he thought of the situation. Sebastian is a big boy: strong, wild, confident, and tough. He didn't mind being on those "baby swings." Just as I had started to enjoy the park again the little boy cried and pleaded again with his dad. It was getting ridiculous. In the dad's defense he stayed clear and concise and did not get angry at the child, but he was very cold and uncaring. His lack of empathy was just brutal though. That's what got to me. I mean it, it was BRUTAL. I let go of my anger and growing hate and just took it all in. I tried reasoning with myself and with the situation. The dad continued to meet the child's pleading and now crying for a chance at the baby swing with rejection. The dad told his kid that he was just tired, he was big, and that he was not pushing him unless it was on the big swing. The boy was so sad. It was a huge playground scene at this point and everyone was watching.

   A woman came into the picture, I can only assume his mother, and she said nothing. I thought for a moment oh good the mom, she'll talk to the dad. Nothing. They hardly spoke. She just sat down and the begging continued. Maybe she wasn't his mom, maybe she was the man's girlfriend. I don't know. She seemed very uninvolved. At this point I thought it was all over. I thought I can now release the tightness in my chest and pain in my gut over this crappy guy who is treating his kid crappy and trying to be some macho bad ass by winning a power struggle over a safety swing. Then the little boy said once again in desperation, "But I AM a little kid."

   And because he was right, he was a little kid, I calmly walked over to the man and boy. I looked at the little boy first and said, "Hey little guy I'm sorry you are so sad." He looked at me kindly. I then said to the dad, "Hey I'm trying to be friendly here so please don't take this the wrong way; what's wrong with him just having a turn at the little swings?" He told me that the boy is just tired and he can go on the big ones, he does all the time. I kindly said, "But, they are only little for a short time. Believe me I'm not trying to say you are wrong, just give a different perspective, I'm sure you are doing a great job and you love him to death. I know how hard parenting is, I have seven kids, my oldest is 15. One thing that I have learned though is to I pick the battles that matter. I have kids that I don't want dating until they are older, or wearing make up, or watching inappropriate movies, those are the important battles to me. At the end of the day doesn't it matter the most that he had a good time at the park?" The dad sort of shook his head yes, but said the kid was big enough for the other swings. I agreed he was big enough. I asked the dad if he knew why the boy might want to try the little swings. He said no. I offered that maybe he wanted to try something new and different today. The dad seemed like that might be a good reason. I told him that I just wanted to put the thought out there, that I felt his little boy was a little boy and to just think about in case it helps things because he won't be little long. I also tried to explain to him that kids have such a different view on things than we do, that I've researched a lot about preschoolers, and that if I hadn't learned what made little kids tick, and how to deal with them I would have gone crazy a long time ago. I reiterated again, "They have reasons, they have a different view and feel differently than we do about things." He took it all in as I talked. I have no idea if he was just being polite or what. I commented about how it's very interesting why little kids are indecisive, why they lie, why they do lots of things. It makes sense to them at the time. He nodded and I sympathized again how hard parenting is. I then got down to the little boys level and said, "It's hard being a little AND big kid, huh?" He smiled a half smile and with his little sad voice he said, "yeh." I told him to have some fun at the park before he had to go. I said, "Maybe go down the slide or something, ok?"

   Before they left the woman, I still presume his mom, pushed him on those "baby swings." I have no idea if I helped a family or hurt the situation. (The woman did not hear my little intrusion speech. I think she was too far away.) The dad seemed civil (but macho) and not too annoyed that I talked to him but who knows. I have no idea what to do when I'm confronted with these things in public. In the past and on rare occasion, (VERY rare) if I say something to a parent it's hardly ever been in a kind, caring concerned tone. It's been in a 'you're such a jerk to your kid' aggressive type comment as I'm leaving the situation. That is not productive. That only feeds anger. I promised myself a long time ago to never do that again. Let go of the anger and judgement that builds up inside. Don't fight fire with fire. Fight fire with understanding and compassion. If I feel I *have* to say something then I tell myself to do it to make a difference and not add gasoline to the fire. The thing is... it takes more effort, more understanding, more patience to do what I did. It takes almost no courage and it takes zero understanding to fire back insults and disapproval.
Compassion. I acted out of compassion again this week! I just realized it!
This has been my mantra for a long while now, and it made me a better, calmer, more loving person

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Expanding the Strawberries & Getting my Guineas! Spring is in FULL swing...New Garden Space Coming Soon!

 Our currently over crowded strawberry bed is to the right of the boys working below. It's a beautiful thick bed that desperately needs an expansion (at least 200 plants are in it now). It's really a challenge to plow down a spot to garden (without the use of a plow) on our land. The soil is awesome, but we are over run with crappy grasses and stubborn crab grass. After two years of hand weeding and mulching this was the first year that weeding our strawberry patch isn't necessary. I win! I succeeded; the strawberries crowded out the weeds! Strawberries are good at that, but without effort on our end (me and the kids weeding it two years straight) our patch wouldn't look as good and thick as it does now. My husband complimented me about it, too. Actually it was when he did that I realized we need to expand!

After mowing this spot on the lowest setting to get the grass as short as can be we are spreading chicken manure out over it. (I said we... I helped too! :)

Now it's topped with old wet straw I got a deal on; only $2 a bale from craigslist (instead of $5 at the store)

Now a layer of damp cardboard. (I left it out in the rain)

Now some landscaping fabric to hold everything in place. This is an extra expense but I had some in the garage. It is really helpful though but you don't have to have it. If you don't have it then make SURE you keep it wet or you will have cardboard blow away.  

Now we let it "cook."

To help kill weeds/grass I use a method called lasagna gardening. You use layer after layer of material to decompose into the ground, kill weeds, and create a rich yummy environment for planting. People layer leaves, grass clippings, manure, boxes, burlap, newspaper, Etc. Eventually, and pretty quickly, you create a perfect home for huge hungry earthworms. Keep your lasagna garden wet and it will do it's magic. 

I ordered 50 new strawberry plants and I'll transplant some crowded ones over, too. I'm going to have them growing in thick all over again! :) Eventually I bet I turn the left corner of this fence and make more strawberry room right on down the other side. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. ;)

Meanwhile on the Mini Farm
 (I recently read that in my county any land with livestock on it is classified as a farm, so I totally call my place a farm now. And with 41 birds on their way to my house and 29 already here I'm going with that.)

We got our first guineas! (They are keets; that is what baby guineas are called.) They are 2.5 weeks old and wild as heck. You have to hand raise these birds or they will be completely wild and run away and/or roost in your trees. So since they were kept wild in a pen we have a bunch of retraining to do. So far we hold them for a half hour at least three times a day. They shake and are really scared, but we calm them down after about 10 minutes of holding. The kids have managed to have them sit on their laps without having to hold them close and tight the whole time. We are not making much progress yet, but if we really, really work hard they will become pets who come to us and eat millet as a treat from our hands. They will eat bugs from the garden without hurting the plants (most do anyway) and if trained properly they will roost in a house instead of in the trees. I'm thinking about making them a smaller but more secure outdoor version of the brooder house /potters bench we made. If not then we'll just train them to roost with the chickens at night. Hopefully we'll get them trained. 

Love those little stripped heads!

The Pet Chicken
We acquired a pet chicken from our friend Dixie. He's the craziest thing. He's SO tame. The chicken is too young to intermix with our full grown flock so it hangs out with the kids, stays in a separate pen, or hangs out in our house. Yes I said our house (not very often though). However, he sleeps in a cat carrier in the kitchen. It's super tame. lol. This chicken came to us with the name Leo, but everyone in the house calls him something different. I call him Chicken Little for some reason. The past two nights when we went to let Chicken Little out of his pen he had already escaped it. He was waiting in the grass near the back door. We open the porch door and he hops right inside. Very cute. 

In May we welcome new birds to our flock: turkey, geese, some meat birds, and some new chicks to raise for laying hens. Busy, busy spring at our house. In fact Ricky and I agreed that after this weekend no more weekend plans until June; we are just too busy: tilling, planting, building stuff, putting up fence, Etc.
I'm really excited because I've waited a really long time to expand into having turkey, weeder geese, and a real nice permanent garden area with pet guineas and it's all starting to happen! Other things that I've put so much effort and patience into are doing well too. The strawberries for one, but also we have huge thorn-less raspberries and blackberries that are just exploding with booms. I planted them from just little 2-4 inch sticks in the ground two years ago! I think we'll have stuffed bellies full of them! One of our peach trees is doing outstanding and is 15 ft tall, the other is doing great but is smaller. Our pear tree that was lopsided and spindly looks like a real tree this year with a nice shape! Pear trees are not know for nice shapes. Our four apple trees look better than ever (they are still only 3-4 feet tall). We got them on clearance three years ago and they were on clearance because they looked sad and it was August. lol. Our blueberry bushes are not doing well, but they are alive. I'm thinking about buying bigger more established bushes from a organic blueberry farm. Probably not this year though. This year I really feel like so much of my work the past three years is paying off. It's nice. We're on our way to a nice little 1 acre homestead. We'll just keep working towards more and more... I have a lot of patience.

I had this great idea to put up a fence off from our chicken pen with a gate. This way I can let the chickens in  the garden during the spring and fall to eat weeds and seeds before and after the growing season. This will drastically cut down on weeds! Then during the growing season the guineas will have the full duty of weeding and debugging the plants. It's a nifty little system that should work really well. I'm really happy about this plan. This spot here is about 40x40 feet. I also plan on making it awesome with a privacy fence made from lattice and some garden furniture and a shady spot to sit. 
Click any photo to enlarge them

And while on a picture posting rampage I fixed up the hen house (new curtains) and planted some new plants.  Had a duh moment when I added a bench to sit on across from the house and near the chicken pen (not pictured). Ricky and I just stand around over there and watch the chickens. Not anymore! This not pictured bench spot is also a direct view of that future garden plan pictured above. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Repurposing a Workbench Into a Gardner's Potting Bench & Chick Brooder House

I'm so very, very pleased with how our latest repurposing project went. We took an old, sturdy work bench from a garage on our property and with Charlotte and Ricky's help we lugged it all the way over to the other side of our house. Then the fun began. I had a vision to repurpose it into a cute piece of garden furniture... I wanted a potting bench AND chick brooder house all in one. When baby chicks weren't using it as a bed and breakfast I figured it would be great garden storage.

So that's what we did this weekend. We painted, cut, drilled, nailed, and stapled our way to success! I couldn't be happier. We only spent about $25 on supplies. We needed to buy: 1 inch chicken wire, hinges, latches, and fence staples. We had and used scrap wood, staple gun, saw, drill, other basic tools (like a hammer/wire cutters), paint, and shower curtains.

A nice workbench. Everett climbing up to get the chicken on top

Measuring wood for a door on each side

Fitting a back on with plywood we had laying around

Chicken wire on the front, Sebastian helping his dad

Daddy often has a curious helper nearby

Side door with latch and hinges finished

                                                                          The back all painted

I added gardening stuff to the top to get the final feel, and I had to make the inside cozy and nice. I am laughing really hard in the above picture because I'm slightly stuck.

I got stuck a little as I made the finishing touches inside and this didn't help lol

Backing out of the chicken brooder house

For the inside walls I cut and stapled a plastic shower curtain that has an awesome farm scene on it. Ricky's mom didn't need the shower curtain anymore and I collect them for reasons like this. I was totally saving this cute one for a special occasion. (Shower curtain collection...I know weird, right? They come in SO handy though!)
I love this farm scene! I added another shower curtain to the floor. It's not stapled down so it can be removed for cleaning. Later we'll add straw or wood shavings. We generally use heating pads covered in pillow cases for heat, but we could drill a hole in the bottom for a cord and hang a light if we want to.

We sure had a lot of fun with this! I love how it turned out!
(Did you see there's a chicken eating out of a bowl on the table top, it's the kids' pet chicken.)

My original plan was to keep this in the garage. After finishing it I agreed with my Aunt Sharon, too cute for our junky garage. So we carried it up onto our porch/sun room. It almost killed us, but we got it in there. Except that when we got it in there we realized we brought it in the wrong way... so we had to carry it back out and start over. We finally got it moved in and it takes up a chunk of an already small-ish room, but it's cute. I can: keep loads of plants on it, the kids can pull stools up to it for coloring or eating on the porch, I can use it as a work space, there is ample space for starting seeds, and underneath I have a garden/garden decor storage area for when chicks aren't staying in it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Got to Show Compassion Today (not just feel it)

I saw a woman with two children at a store today. I may have missed her, but loud screeching caught my ears. She was frazzled and grabbing her kids firmly trying to get them to "behave." That's what really caught my attention, I thought she was being harsh for half of a second. But then I saw what was really going on. She wasn't angry. She was frazzled and trying to keep control of a very hard situation. She had a child with her who was very high needs and who appeared very autistic. He looked about six. He was making loud repetitive screeching noises and repetitive movements. He was very hard to manage. There was a little boy too, about eight years old, tagging along and sometimes wondering off. I felt so very sympathetic for her. They went one direction and us the other (I noticed a man joined them, her husband I presume). After a moment I just looked at my husband, shook my head, and whispered, "We have it so easy."

We went next door to Walmart and down the very busy cereal isle a little boy walked up to us and started talking to Everett and asking me questions about him. Everett liked it and enjoyed the encounter. I thought the boy looked familiar. I looked down the isle and there was the family -the autistic boy in the big part of the grocery cart thrashing about. He repeatedly hit his back against the metal. I chatted with my curious little friend and told him I liked his spider shirt. I made eye contact with his mom and she half-smiled at me as if to say thanks for being friendly. It pleased me she wasn't yelling for him not to bug us. We were in the way of shoppers so I motioned for us to head down the isle. Ricky grabbed the cart from me as I walked the boy back to his mother, I kept on walking to catch up with Ricky. As I left I tried to get Everett to wave goodbye, but the little boy was preoccupied as a lot happened in a short time. The little boy was in the way of another shopper and as his mom struggled to get him out of the way the autistic child was trying to stand up in the grocery cart. The dad was down the isle retrieving something. I met Ricky at the end of the isle and just stood there watching. This mom looked like she did not know what to do. She had a total look of defeat on her face. Life was being sucked from her at full force. I passed Everett to Ricky and said, "I'll be right back, I have to do something." Total instinct, emotion and impulse took over me: I just had to do this now...not think about whether it's right, or wrong, or odd, or crazy...I just had to do something.

I walked right up to this very petite woman, who was at least a few inches shorter than me, and without permission I gave her a hug. I said, "You look like you need a hug, and I want to tell you, YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB. This is so hard. You are doing it." She was shocked, she looked as if I had spun her in six circles around and around.  She didn't know what had hit her. I said again, "You are doing a great job with these kids." She told me thank you and smiled. The look on her face was love.

I walked away with tears in my eyes.

Until tonight I had totally forgotten that 11 years ago when I worked at a Mexican restaurant I encountered a woman caring for a severally mentally retarded child, the child was about 12 or so. She touched my heart when I saw how gentle and loving she was with the child. The kid needed help with everything and was making a mess and demanding so much care and help.

I was handed a really easy deck of cards in life and some people aren't. I don't often take it for granted, but I'm human so I'm sure I do sometimes. I was so impressed by how well she handled her child that I walked up to her and said, "You are very good with her, it's so touching to see that, I'm sure it's hard, God bless your family." She was so thankful and a smile lit up lovingly on her face. It feels good to give people support, it feels even better when it's someone you don't even know.

 People should care for people...strangers should be kind to each other and compassionate. When you can let your heart lead the way; don't just have compassion, show compassion.

From Wikipedia:
Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Birthday was AWESOME!

I went to bed cranky and then I woke up cranky on my birthday yesterday...I was looking forward to my birthday just last week and then for some reason I just didn't care. Oh yes, that's right, the reason I didn't care was because I was cranky!

Layla was being difficult yesterday morning so that made me irritated and snippy on top of cranky. I then accused my husband of never liking my ideas after I told him what gate I wanted/found for my up and coming goose and turkey pen. I apologised and admitted I was in the wrong and just cranky. Then an hour later I found a gate that is 1000 times more awesome on craigslist (and a 5 minutes drive from us). If he hadn't had criticized the gate I thought I wanted I might not have looked for another. He's awesome. He's SO good at what will look good outside our house.

Ricky went to work for a few hours yesterday but told me he scheduled a half day! That was a nice surprise! I had my coffee as the other kids tricked downstairs to wish me happy birthday. They grabbed some cereal while I shuffled off to the chiropractor alone at 9am (with not a single kid with me)! After my appointment I snuck over to Goodwill which is right next door. I had a lovely time shopping alone (retail therapy!) and found some birthday goodies as well as a couple surprises for Charlotte and Penelope (jewelry and barbies). I came home in a great mood. :) I love some good finds.
Pearl charm necklace

Old plug in wall clock. I love old clocks! I didn't have any, until now!
I love the old style constant moving of the second hand.
When I got home Everett was ready for a nap, so after I got him asIeep I felt like I had more free time. I hung out with the kids and Charlotte gave me an adorable handmade vase of spring tissue paper flowers.

Sage and Ethan gave me a nice three piece kitchen knife set, and Penelope gave me several birthday cards she made for me. She’s been making me early birthday cards since last month. It’s been super cute.

We hung out happily at home and played outside in the rainy weather. We collect Lalaloopsy Minis and I bought a new Lala' house with a new girl named Blossom Flower Pot for Penelope to “give to me.” It was the cutest thing ever, look at this face and hug when she thanked me for getting it:

Ricky pulled up in the afternoon around 1:30 and surprised me with a famous Blue Owl Restaurant Levee High Apple Pie and ice cream. He also brought me a Five Guys Cheeseburger, and a bottle of Besitos Sweet Red Mad Housewife Wine (I haven’t been able to find it ). That was a lot of stops he did on his way home! As I was eating he gave me one of my most loved and prettiest birthday cards ever.
He always picks nice cards that say the most sweetest things.
I just realized I still have the pretty one he gave me for my birthday last year in my kitchen! I framed this one, nope I don't care I'm a dork, not one bit :)

Then I got to open more presents... A new camera and a new ipod!!!! I haven’t had an ipod in a very long time and my camera has been falling apart literally for the past year, it's shutter is gone and it's zoom is broken. I want a SLR camera but it’s not the right time for us time and money wise, so my darling husband researched and got me a camera with a lot of bells and whistles and an easier learning curve for me. And, Geez there is a lot to learn about this camera! I’m really excited about it!

We took a walk outside and checked the mail. I got a beautiful handmade card from my dear Mother-in-law. It is so pretty! I should take a photo.
So, after a wonderful couple hours of hanging out and I got a call from the guy on Craigslist about the 1000 times better gate. Ricky and I hopped in my car to meet him down the road. It’s so cute! It’s an old antique double loop style gate. Double loop fencing is an old fashioned fencing style that is pretty cost prohibitive today. I adore it. I keep my eye close to craigslist for someone selling the fence, but haven’t found any online. They don’t make the old good stuff anymore, but you can buy the new reproduced version stuff online. I haven’t been able to find it for less than $300-350 a 100ft roll. Crazy right!? And that's the new version, which I suspect is not as great or thick.

The fence looks like this:
Photo found online
                                          So I have myself a old douple loop gate now.
                                                    An oddly awesome birthday gift.

The guy I bought it from has two more. I want them but honestly just don't need them right now. Bummer though. These are hard to find!
See what a cool old gate!?
In the picture Ricky is thinking: How am I going to get my wife away from these kids? At this moment we are trying to leave for dinner. The baby woke up right as soon as we were walking out the door. So I decided let's cut into that big ol' pie before we leave.

Blue Owls Levee High Apple Pie is famous for it's huge height, 18 hand peeled apples, and it's smothering caramel pecan topping. It really is amazing, it's been on The Food Network and is one of "Oprah's favorite things" -so it is actually famous.

I found these powder blue shoes at Goodwill on my birthday, too! Love!
Finally we were able to leave. Several times I thought we should just stay home but the kids insisted everything was fine at home. We rented a movie on Hulu for everyone and Charlotte took a few picture of us and we were off!

Ricky took me to a new place. A real treat to travel into the "city" further than we usually go with children at home. He surprised me by taking me to a wonderful, cozy, patio oyster bar in a gorgeous quiet urban neighborhood. Ricky was quick to point out after a half hour we saw 6 dogs with their owners and only one child.
Inside the floor was a gorgeous tile/mosaic pattern that looked extremely expensive, the wall of antique styled mirrors made me feel right at home. The bathroom had a sliding wood door and was very nice as well. What a great vibe the place had.

It was dark by the time we sat down on the patio...comfortably dark and cozy. A little slice of Paris. The wine list was massive and the menu small and interesting. We shared 12 raw oysters, fried frog legs, and an oyster cream soup with chives and bacon. Everything was delicous including the frog legs which I have never liked before. Good thing I'll try anything twice.

The café windows, which open outward are absolutely darling. As we sat and enjoyed the setting, each other, and the food I became comfortable with the fact that one day our children will be grown and we'll be able to do this all the time.

(I didn't take the two pictures above. I nabbed them online, they are taken by Jennifer Silverberg)
 I wanted a photo of us in front of the place but I couldn't figure out my night time camera setting. I'll have to work on that. I've always wanted pictures in front of the more interesting places we dine or visit so that might be a future photo project as I learn about my new camera.
What an amazing birthday, thank you dear husband and kids of mine.
I am SO SPOILED! With a capital "S."